The Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The circumstantial evidence seemed to cement the murder case against Donald Powell. He had been seen at the Bessemer home of his friend, Sebastian "Chick" Allen, shortly before his body was found July 7. A will leaving Powell $15,000 was found near Allen's body. In an interview lasting several hours to 4:30 a.m., Powell made several inconsistent statements to police.
He was charged with murder and theft.
It's the kind of twist that crime novels are made of. After he had been released on bail, the Hueytown man helped lead police to Chris Jones - now charged with Allen's murder. The charges against Powell were dropped.
At the law office of Ken Moore, Powell broke down in tears several times Tuesday as he talked about his ordeal. Powell said he has been treated like a pariah in the community. His contracting business has dried up as people don't know what to make of him. "I just want people to know that I didn't kill my friend," he said.
Powell, 39, said he first met Allen about 15 years ago at the Bessemer Farmers Market, where Allen had gone to buy flowers. They struck up a friendship as Powell became Allen's handyman, doing renovation work and other odd jobs at rental properties the retired Hueytown High School choir director owned.
Powell and Allen often traveled to casinos together. Sometimes, Powell's wife, Christie, would tag along. They became a family, Christie Powell said. She said they last spoke with Allen, 69, on June 28.
After not hearing from Allen for three days, Powell, his wife and a cousin of Allen's went to Allen's home on Memorial Drive in Bessemer.
They called police after their knocks went unanswered.
A Bessemer police officer and Powell entered the home and found Allen's bedroom had been ransacked. Blood was splattered against the walls. Allen's Buick Park Avenue had been stolen. Allen's body was found wrapped in bed sheets.
Powell was taken to the Bessemer Police Department for questioning. Several hours later, he was charged with murder.
"I was shocked," he said. "I was scared to death. I was charged with a murder I didn't do."
Powell attributed the inconsistent statements to his exhaustion and said police played "cat and mouse games" by changing their questions.
It was not unusual, he said, for him to be seen at Allen's home. He spent 10 days in the county jail before rounding up bail money on July 17. He hired Moore to defend him.
After leaving Moore's office on July 24, Powell and his wife say, they saw someone driving Allen's stolen car. They pulled alongside to make sure it was indeed Allen's Buick and followed the driver, Timothy Murphy, to Wal-Mart on Ninth Avenue in Bessemer. Murphy told the Powells that he bought the car from a man named Sebastian Allen.
"I said 'No you didn't. I've been charged with killing Sebastian Allen,'" Powell said. He said Murphy got in the car and sped away. The Powells gave chase.
Christie Powell, who was driving, said she began wondering if chasing someone driving a dead man's car was a good idea. "I said, 'What do you mean this is a bad idea? Step on it. Catch this guy,'" Donald Powell said.
The chase ended on Lou George Loop in western Jefferson County. Donald Powell was on the phone with police all the while. "I told 911 that I was charged with murder and I was following the car of the man who had been killed," Powell said. Sheriff's deputies and Bessemer police arrived on the scene.
Murphy provided police the lead that would result in Powell being cleared.
According to an affidavit, Murphy told police he paid $180 to a man covered in blood for Allen's car; the bloody man had a knife and told Murphy that he had just killed a man by cutting his throat, Murphy told police.
Murphy was charged with first-degree receiving stolen property. The information he gave police led to Chris Jones, who police said had known Allen for several years and often traveled with him.
Police arrested Jones in Tuscaloosa County on July 26. The murder charge and a theft charge against Powell were dropped Friday.
"The evidence initially pointed to Powell. The more we collected, it pointed to Jones," Bessemer Detective Perry Hurst said. The investigator said he remains convinced Powell does have a connection to the case.
"Isn't it funny that Donald Powell just got out of jail and he stumbles across that car?" Hurst said. "I smell a rat. We had cars all over Jefferson County looking for Allen's car. We had airplanes in the sky looking for it, and Donald Powell finds it?"
Jones, 35, of McCalla gave a statement implicating himself in Allen's death, Hurst said. Powell said he knew he would inherit money upon Allen's death, but he would rather have his friend back.
The will, written in Allen's hand and not witnessed, may not be legal. A judge will have to determine if Powell can collect, attorney Moore said.
Moore said he believes Powell has no connection to Allen's death.
"I've never seen anything like this in my 40 years" of practicing law, Moore said. "This is the first time I've seen someone charged with murder help solve the case. I know the odds of that happening are high, but just because someone is charged, it doesn't mean he is guilty."
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